While the focus of this blog is on estate planning, the issue of elder abuse to exert undue influence in the drafting of a will or creation of a trust cannot be ignored. Elder abuse in the form of physical assault and battery, financial exploitation, emotional abuse, abandonment and neglect is extremely common. With the average age of our population increasing, issues involving the financial abuse of the elderly can be expected to become even more prevalent.
When an unscrupulous hired caregiver of a family member is prepared to withhold necessities, engage in acts of physical or mental abuse, or intimidate their elderly charges, this may result in the creation of estate planning documents like a durable power of attorney, living trust, or will that do not reflect the intentions of the senior and that provide inappropriate gifts to the caregiver. The result can be devastating for the senior who is subject to abuse, neglect, or exploitation; and it can deprive beneficiaries of significant portions of the legacy necessary to provide for the financial needs of the decedent’s family and loves ones.
Because the elderly can be susceptible to fraud and abuse especially if they live in relative isolation, family members may wish to exercise vigilance in checking frequently on elderly loved ones to ensure that there are no issues with their property and financial affairs. Caregivers that prey on the elderly can be effective at gaining the trust of those for whom they provide care and their family members, so it is advisable to confirm information by checking financial records and accounts as well as inspecting the premises and condition of an elderly loved one.
There are strategies that a person may employ when constructing an estate plan to reduce the risk of future victimization by a caregiver. Some of these strategies include the following:
• Discuss your intentions regarding your estate and financial matters with several loved ones that you trust
• Provide copies of estate planning documents to trusted family members
• Consider using a professional or financial institution as your agent under a durable power of attorney or as your trustee
• Keep an inventory of your assets along with a copy of your estate planning documents in a secure location like a safe deposit box
Basically, the goal is to ensure that those you trust understand what to look for in terms of potential signs of financial abuse if you should become vulnerable because of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or similar age-related conditions. The bottom line is that careful estate planning can provide protections that limit one’s future risk of financial abuse, which can squander the assets needed for one’s future financial support and deprive your loved ones of the legacy you have built.
The above information is designed solely to illustrate general principles of law, and does not constitute a specific legal opinion on individual cases. We suggest that you contact experienced legal counsel for a specific opinion tailored to your individual circumstances.
If you have concerns that a caregiver has exerted undue influence over a vulnerable elderly loved one, our New Mexico Estate Planning Law Firm may be able to help. The New Mexico Estate Planning and Probate Lawyers at Jay Goodman & Associates, PC offers a free consultation in our centrally located offices in Santa Fe and Albuquerque so that we can discuss your specific situation. Call us today to schedule your free consultation at (505) 989-8117 to learn about your rights and options.